OP/ED
EPA backroom deal with factory farms presented to congress

Environmentally reckless consent agreement offers meat industry exemption from air pollution lawsuits A statement from GRACE

 

NEW YORK, NY, October 14, 2003: According to documents leaked to the Sierra Club on Friday, October 10, 2003 the Bush Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to a consent agreement that proposes to give all Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) amnesty from Clean Air Act violations in exchange for a mere $500 fine and a $2,500 fee to finance an air quality monitoring program controlled by the AFOs themselves.

This proposal, which confirms what has been suspected by environmental groups for several months, is environmentally irresponsible and politically reckless. Factory farms would be allowed to buy their immunity at a bargain price and continue polluting the air of surrounding rural communities with impunity for an indefinite period of time while their activities are monitored by "third parties" paid by the AFOs. What is worse is that the agreement took place behind closed doors with virtually no public debate. At the very least, citizens deserve full disclosure of the plan, especially given that they will bear most of its consequences. Yet, the EPA has not publicly disclosed any information to this date. While the EPA should be hard at work protecting the environment, it appears to be increasingly eager to protect the interests of corporate polluters with an appalling disregard for environmental and health consequences.

"This deal gives factory farm operators a license to pollute and continue shifting pollution costs to the residents that live nearby without fear of being sued under the Clean Air Act. With this agreement the Environmental Protection Agency has completed its transition to the Environmental Pollution Agency," says Dr. William J. Weida, Director of the GRACE Factory Farm Project.

GRACE objects to the following features of this unconscionable agreement:

1. Polluters control the monitoring program. AFOs would contribute $2,500 to a monitoring fund controlled by the polluters themselves. This is a ludicrous sum as it would not even buy decent monitoring equipment, let alone pay for the cost and time to implement the program adequately. AFOs would propose where the monitoring takes place and who the "independent third parties" to perform the monitoring will be. Given that the polluters are the paymasters, it is hard to see how these third parties can remain "independent."

2. National Academy of Sciences pronounces pollution measurement methods inadequate. The agreement relies on "Emissions-Estimating Methodologies" developed by the EPA based on data from the nationwide emissions monitoring program to estimate the total annual emissions from individual AFOs. However, a recent National Academy of Sciences study has found that this method of calculating air emissions will not work and that any acceptable method must be based on the unique climate and terrain of each AFO.

3. The agreement offers legal "bribes." To all intents and purposes, AFOs would be able to buy their exemption from Clean Air lawsuits for a small fee. The proposed fine of $500 is much lower than the current $27,000 per diem under Clean Air Act and CERCLA and doesn't even begin to match the monetary losses in property value and health costs experienced by neighbors of factory farms.

4. There is no expiration date to the license to pollute. The agreement lacks an expiration date: the "covenant not to sue" lasts until the end of the monitoring program, but no specific end date is set for emission estimates. This would potentially allow factory farms to pollute indefinitely.

5. Federal funding would be extended to violators of Clean Air Act. A facility that violates the Clean Air Act would still be allowed to obtain federal funding, which is now prohibited where there are previous violations or discharges.

6. Any enforcement actions would be based on bad data. Since "the annual emissions from a particular facility...will be determined based on...an assumption that the number of animals housed at the facility is the maximum number of animals housed at the facility," any AFO operator can influence the results of an odor survey by simply reducing the number of animals at the facility prior to the survey and then increasing the number after the survey is taken.

7. The deal is extended to all AFOs. By extending this deal from large Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to animal feeding operations of all sizes (AFOs), this deal allows an even greater number of facilities to obtain exemption from air pollution standards.